happiness

Should I Get Another Chinchilla?

This question comes up all the time from chinchilla owners, as it rightfully and naturally would. Should I get another chinchilla for my existing chinchilla(s)? Is my chinchilla lonely? Does my chinchilla deserve a playmate? Cage mate? Best friend?

The answer, unequivocally, is no. Well, it’s no and yes. Let me explain!CuddlesIf you are a current chinchilla owner, you know that chinchillas are unique animals that are a true gift to the world! They have one-of-a-kind personalities with their own cute idiosyncrasies, adorable quirks, and delightful oddities that are distinct to each individual pet. This allows us to come to a few conclusions: 1. Chinchillas are particular, 2. Chinchillas are individualistic, and 3. Chinchilla behavior can sometimes be categorized as inexplicable. These reasonable conclusions – along with the fact that chins can be territorial – show us that the odds of one chinchilla getting along with another chinchilla is slim (depending on your chinchilla’s personality, of course).Mitty smilesThis is not to say that chinchillas can’t be properly introduced over time and come to be great mates – it’s only to say that your chinchilla does not need another chinchilla to live a long, happy life. This is a main point to consider. In my personal experience, every single one of my chinchillas (with the exception of the mosaic sisters Lulu and Fifi) live alone in their own cage and are living a healthy, satisfying existence. Do I wish they got along? Of COURSE! Did I try to bond them within reason? Definitely! Do I still have dreams? Forever and always. It’s my dream for all my babies to cuddle up and coo at me. However, it’s only a dream – that’s my reality, and that’s okay.Koko Cuteness BellyThe only reason you should get another chinchilla is because YOU – as a responsible, capable owner – want to take on the duty of another precious life in your home. That means double the mess, double the work, double the expense, double the personality, and double the adorable joy that comes from each and every chinchilla. Be aware that your decision will impact YOUR life, your existing chinchilla’s life, and your new chinchilla’s life as well. The main focus should be the well-being of your pets, despite their ability to cohabitate.Mitty sleepingSo, let’s say you’re ready to take the next step: another fluffy baby in the household! Great: congratulations for coming to this decision based solely on your willfulness to take on another chinchilla, understanding the great probability that he or she may not be able to live amicably with your current chinchilla. Bravo! What’s next? Firstly, if you have intentions to house your chinchillas together, you must purchase a chinchilla of the same sex (unless one of them has been fixed). Then, be sure to purchase all the necessities your FIRST chinchilla required: new cage, water bottles, shelves, hammocks, accessories, food bowls, and fleece! Do not pick up another chinchilla without first getting all the essentials that he or she may need. Never assume you can just plop him or her in with your existing fluffball – that could have devastating consequences for either or both babies. It’s also good to brush up on the basics for each new chinchilla, as no two are alike.sistersThen, you can introduce your chinchillas slowly to one another, placing their cages near one another to allow them to get accustomed to new smells and the new presence. I won’t go into the controversial topic of talking about how exactly to introduce your chinchillas, as there are plenty of suggestions out there and very strongly opinionated owners. The safest way that I have found is to place them in proximity to one another with a barrier and allow them to react to one another without having to fear for their safety. Based on their reactions initially and over time, you can safely determine how they might react with one another. In my experience, my boys got along until the ladies arrived, and the ladies never got along with one another (aside from the sisters, of course). I would never consider housing the males and females together because none of them are fixed, and I don’t have the capability to take care of any kits with my very full-time job if anything were to go wrong with the birth. I can’t stomach the idea of losing any of my existing babies, even to their babies.

What I’ve learned is that my chinchillas are generally solitary animals, and I am their best human friend. I clean, scratch, and provide emotional support to them (oft via song), and they have shown me time and time again that they don’t need – and never needed – another chinchilla friend for them to live a loved, loving life. No, your chinchilla is not lonely or lacking. Are they bored sometimes? Maybe. But that’s what stimulating cages, safe chews, and occasional treats or playtimes are for! You can provide a beautiful, fulfilling life for your chinchilla – never doubt that. They do deserve a great mate, and I’m certain they can find that in you.scratches

How To: Chinchilla Holiday Photography

One of our favorite ways to get festive during the holiday season is with winter-themed chinchilla photo shoots! This guide will go through my process with photographing LY Chinchillas on my own with no strobes or flash (basically, nothing fancy)! Be sure to have a fast camera (I use the Fujifilm X-T10 Camera because of the super-fast continuous shooting mode) and light sources ready to go!Koko Warm Posing XmasThe very first thing to check prior to starting the shoot is the chin-proof factor. Admittedly, the actual time on set is very short – and the rest of the time is spent coaxing your little one back on set or sending them back to their cage to nap off a hard 10 seconds of work! In those off-set moments, you’ll need to make sure that everything is completely chin-proofed to prevent any accidents, fur loss, or injury.Muff Sideways HolidaysThe next thing you’ll want to check are your ambient light sources – that means your natural light, ceiling lights, desk lights, lamps, floor lamps, whatever other illuminating tools you may have in the shooting area. This will help capture your chinchilla by allowing you to have a faster shutter speed due to more available light. Normally, I prefer a clean white light, but for the holidays, there’s nothing wrong with a warmer glow that comes standard in most home lighting.
Grab a portable spotlight if your natural lighting is low – ideally, this will be somehow diffused. You can do this by using a strong flashlight or adjustable desk lamp covered and tied down with a very sheer scarf. This will make sure that your light is not too harsh and capture your chinchillas in all their softness.Set design holidays 2016 The third step is to create your set: start out with a fun, safe idea and execute! Fleece is always great, but other textures can be visually pleasing too. For my holiday shoot this year, I went with simple silver and white tree decorations, along with a chunky knit sweater. It’s important to note that these decorations are obviously not safe for consumption, so I would not suggest this for anyone who is starting out with shoots; managing the talent on set is a huge part of the multitasking these types of productions require!Lulu Munching Warm HolidaysThe final step is to shoot away! I like to set up the scene, get the lights on, take a few test shots, and then plop them in one by one to see how they react. Normally, my chins are very confused at the new environment, so they’ll take 10 seconds to look around before dashing off. Those 10 seconds are crucial! With a fast continuous shooting mode, you can grab up to 8 images per second – more than enough to finalize at least one adorable final shot.Mitty HolidaysKnowing your chinchillas, staying very patient, and setting realistic expectations is key: after shooting for years with them, I know that Fifi will be tough to contain (she has a strong dislike for unfamiliar environments) – so during this year’s shoot, she slipped out of the roster by her own sheer determination. Remember, it’s your own selfish cute-loving self who happens to be encouraging them to pose for adorable photos, so never get frustrated if things aren’t working out. If someone is being a diva, simply save the shoot for another day. Or, if you know a shoot is coming up, hold off on safe chews and treats for the week prior and let them munch on set. If difficulties arise, the rule is: better safe than sorry, always! It’s not worth straining your relationship with your beloved chin over some images.Muff Holiday Warm EatingDon’t be apprehensive to reinvent the concept if needed. Sometimes, simple is better. A fleece backdrop and a chew stick can yield incredibly cute shots, too! Staying basic is an awesome way to start learning how your chins will behave in front of the lights and camera. It’s always truly just a buildup of trust, anyhow. We all wish you a very warm and happy holidays with tons of bonding and photography, sweet friends! Koko Cute Head Warm Holidays

How To: Prepare Chinchilla Wood!

During apple-picking season, you may be compelled to think about your fluffs while you’re out with friends and family, gathering delicious ripe fruits by the handful. I certainly always think about my chinchillas, especially when I’m out and about in nature! As my fluffs are indoor pets, I always dream up ways to bring a taste of the outdoors to them. On occasion, one way I do that is by preparing delicious chin-safe woods with organic, pesticide-free wood. Multitasking in the orchard is always a challenge, but the chins will thank you! 🙂

Apple Orchard

Because apple wood is an absolute favorite for all my chin-babies, I love to source what I can during the season from healthy apple trees at local, untreated orchards in upstate NY or eastern CT. I’ll always ask the orchard manager if it’s okay for me to snip some branches from the trees as I’m picking my fair share of apples, and 9 times out of 10, they’ll comply with a smile. I aim mostly for twigs and sticks – the thinner, the better, as those are plentiful and easy to collect (and the chins love destroying twiggies!). Plus, smaller sticks and twigs are easier to manage when you’re preparing the wood for chewy consumption. Be sure to snip live branches, as those are the safest for your chins to chew once properly prepared.

Koko Fall

When you’ve gathered your arsenal of future treats, the first step is to break or cut them to size – delectable treat size, that is! I usually aim for 4-5″ in length, because they fit so perfectly in those adorable chinchilla paws. 😛 Place the pre-sized goods into a container of hot water, and use a clean toothbrush or scrubber to remove tannin and lichen from the sticks. You may have to rinse and repeat several times until the water runs clear over the sticks. Alternatively, you can opt to boil your pre-cut wood for 15-20 minutes, rinse, and scrub. Boiling the wood will help sanitize them better than hot water alone. It’s also fine to use a combination of these methods, as long as you fully implement one or the other.

Muff Cholla

After a final rinse, air dry the sticks over a towel. Once the sticks are completely dry to the touch, evenly space the sticks over aluminum foil or a tin pan, and place your chin-treats in the oven. Baking the wood is a matter of personal preference: some like to bake at an extended period of time on the lowest possible temperature, while others are more aggressive with the baking process. The most common range of temperatures fluctuate from 170 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lulu cute

While chinchilla owners have their own preferences, I suggest trying out a few different temperatures to determine your favorite. Keep in mind that time and temperature can – and should – vary, depending on the thickness of your wood and overall quantity. I generally like to veer in the middle, around 230 degrees for as long as possible. I constantly keep the oven light on and check for any smoking bark. I’ll rotate the sticks or coins every half hour or so. Eventually, you’ll be able to see or test whether or not the wood is done – coins may be cracked, wood will be dry to the touch, and twigs will snap crisply and easily.

Apple Stick

Finally, turn off your oven and remove your sticks to cool. Once cooled, store your wood in a cardboard box and keep your goodies handy in a cool, dry place close to your chinnies. Or, you could work on some more DIY projects, such as creating hanging toys from your delicious woods! They’ll thank you for all your hard work – or at the very least, they’ll delight you with their happiness as they’re munching away! 🙂

Mitty Hanging toy

Chinchillas, Music, and Television!

As the season winds into full swing, it’s important for humans and chinchillas alike to slow down, enjoy the importance of air conditioning, and revel in the glory and sweetness of summertime! We have a daily routine outside of dusting and cleaning that I love to indulge in with the babies: the calming joy of music! Because the hearing capabilities of chinchillas closely resemble that of humans and may not be as sensitive as many originally believed at the conception of chinchilla studies, we and they share more than just the love for their happy existence. Our chins hear the same tones and pitches as us! As we know ambient sounds are universally soothing, we can also deduce (and observe!) that the experience of television and soft music is a real treat for chinchillas.

music koko

A few guidelines for picking the perfect music for your chinchillas can be well-guided with a similar approach as song selection for an infant: the smoother, softer, and more harmonious, the better. Some of our favorites are a mix of cheerful and calming classical music, including select works from Giovanni Palestrina, Bach, Mozart (especially his wind sonatas and concertos), and Debussy. Ah, how the chins swoon! They cuddle by their speakers and nap the days away, all while exercising their minds to the peaceful sounds of yesteryear. We use a laptop with USB speakers for easy portability and control, and loop chinchilla-approved music continuously throughout the day.

music2

As for television, although I don’t practice this form of meditation with the chinchillas, it’s just as pleasing and offers visualization in tandem with vocals for their lazy days. The best type of programming would be a child’s program – nothing too action-oriented or containing too many sharp sound effects or exclamations. Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer are all fan favorites!

1music

Volume should be set depending on distance of speakers from cages, existing ambient sound from your air conditioner and dehumidifier, and type of acoustics in your chinchilla room. Generally speaking, the volume should be audible but not loud to the human ear (think: a toddler should be able to drift to sleep easily in this soothing environment). A great way to test for acoustics and best volume is to stand next to your chinchilla cage and set different volumes until you find yourself being lulled into a happy dream state – just kidding, but you know what I mean. If you have some time to relax and shuffle through idyllic songs, I suggest sitting with your chins and finding a few alternating playlists to their liking: variety is always good, even in soft doses. Happy listening, fluffballs! 🙂

lu fi music

Chinchilla Cage Accents

Muff hilarious face tube

In tandem with recent posts about Ferret Nation Cages and How To: Build a Custom Chinchilla Cage, this post is all about cage details – all the necessary components that help make your chin’s cage feel like a meaningful, functioning home! Although there are online vendors for listed accessories, all items that are realistically able to be made at home have been described in a DIY manner.

Ladies cage

Platforms & Ledges: I suggest keeping platforms 4-5″ wide, installed under 6” apart height-wise for safety. Any higher, and a fall could potentially hurt your chin. And don’t forget ledges – fun shapes for corners, sides, and all around. Sizes can vary, from 3″ upward. The hardware part is simple: screws, washers, and a drill will keep your items snug and secure.

LYC Hay Feeder

Hay Feeders: Hay is an integral part of any healthy chinchilla diet, and it gets everywhere! Our cages have DIY hay feeders, complete with a standing perch for easy eating. Connected with two sturdy hooks, these feeders are a chin favorite, adhere to horizontal bars with ease, and keep the mess minimal!

Food Bowls: We recently switched from bottom-heavy bowls to stainless steel bowls that adhere directly to cage bars. It’s been a wonderful transition, as the stainless steel bowls are sleek, safe, attractive – and most of all, easy to use.

Koko litter box

Litter Boxes: Read this post all about DIY litter boxes and litter training! Litter boxes can be a tidy addition to your chin’s cage, encouraging your pets to maintain their space and keep clean. Of course, not all chinchillas can be litter trained, but it never hurts to try.

Muff Home

Huts & Houses: The fluffs love hiding houses, tight corners, and crunching down on the very infrastructure they inhabit. The best way to inhibit this type of behavior is by encouraging it in a safe, healthy manner! Our hideaways are made from kiln-dried pine and offer privacy-seeking chins a lovely respite from the craziness of their peaceful environments (because we all know being a well-cared-for chinchilla is exhausting). 😛

Mitty Granite Marble Tile

Stone Cooling Tiles: Our chins prefer marble or granite cooling tiles; they are a great accessory for the active buggers who dart all over their cages, working up some heat! The tiles offer temporary relief for warm tummies, but only act effectively if hand-in-hand with low temperatures or air-conditioning.

Girls Cage Toy Bowl Hay

Hanging Toys: Hanging toys are quite simple to make, and shockingly fun to watch as your chins swing them from side to side in impatient demolition attempts. Some drilled apple sticks, chunks of kiln-dried pine, and pumice stones make for a really great time – especially for the attention deficit types!

koko hammock

Hammocks and Tubes: While not every chin enjoys hammocks, a lucky few really do love lounging in comfy floating fleece blankets. There’s nothing like a softly swinging sleepy chinchilla to bring a smile to your face! Tubes are also great accessories, offering a round retreat for your fluffballs. I use galvanized steel ducts, which have rounded steel that can be used safely without fleece coverings. Other tube options include PVC or cardboard tubes with snug fleece covers to prevent harmful ingestion.

Muff Heart

Cuddle Buddies: Fleece teddies can be perfect for solo chinchillas! As long as the cuddle buddy has fine stitching and good construction, your chin will be snuggling up next to their new friend (or tossing it around) in no time.

Water Bottle: Water bottles are the bane of my existence. As I’m living in the city, I do not have an adequate setup for a water pump system. So, I run through glass water bottles every few months. I always have two water bottles in each cage, a 32 oz. and an additional 16 oz., just in case. Currently, I use Kaytee, Living World, and Lixit (although I’ve tried more than a handful of brands), and simply cross my fingers. I have never understood why water bottles do not have any type of manufacturer’s warranty, as they are often faulty and fail to stand the test of time.

Ladies FN

Running Wheel: Although chinchillas do not require a wheel, it is nice to have one for exercise purposes. My chins have a running wheel in a separate playtime cage, which is an excellent way to encourage a weekly allotment of exercise while teaching them to manage their stress when being introduced to different environments.

Koko Fleece Cage

Fleece: The safest fabric for chins, fleece is a good way to cover up harmful plastics in your cage or line the bottom of your cage with a pretty pattern. While fleece is not necessarily easier to clean than bedding, it does help make your chin’s home more personal. If your chin is litter trained, I suggest washing fleece every 2 weeks with a hot water and lemon juice/vinegar mixture. If your chin is not litter trained, fleece should be washed weekly to prevent urine buildup. It’s important to note that while most chins do not eat fleece, some will try! If that’s the case, then fabric should be removed immediately to prevent consumption.

Mitty pan

Custom Steel Pans: Galvanized or stainless steel pans for your chin’s cage are an awesome investment – they are easy to manage and long lasting with proper care. Swapping out plastics for steel is a simple way to prevent harmful ingestion, blockage, or impaction that can come with gnawing malleable plastics.

Ko ball

As always, try to incorporate safe woods into your chin’s environment, and understand the importance of choosing wood over plastic. Be sure to always have an air-conditioning unit (or two!) during warm months, keep a regular dusting routine, and monitor your chin’s weight for changes in consumption in order to catch early warning signs of illness. 🙂

Mitty tail tube

Plastic is Bad, Wood is Good!

When it comes to chinchilla care, all owners understand – or will eventually come to understand – the negative risk associated with plastic consumption. It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to this issue, as pet stores and manufacturers across the world push its occupants towards plastic for an obvious profit. It’s cheap, easy to produce en masse, and nearly indestructible – except when it comes in contact with a determined set of chinchilla chompers. Today, I’m raising my digital paws to the sky and asking all chinchilla owners to please – for the love of fluff – switch to a chinchilla-safe wood alternative.

Mitty Home

Plastic consumption can cause blockage or impaction in a chinchilla’s digestive system, causing discomfort, pain, or even death. Sure, we’ve all had experiences of miraculous chinchilla digestion: for example, Muff, why are you drawn to chewing fabric? Why does it enchant you so? Why must I chinchilla-proof my outfit before handling you? 😉 I will say that my chinchillas have had their share of quirks and unsafe behaviors, but their mishaps are always recognized, seriously addressed, and prevented until the behavior is eventually resolved. But the simple relief of your – or my – chinchillas being safe after an unsafe behavior is no indication of future success. Yes, plastic can kill your chinchilla. I mean, it probably won’t, but it can. And putting your chinchilla in a potentially dangerous situation when you have the power to chinchilla-proof their living and playing space is simply unnecessary. As good owners, it is our responsibility to take the care of these fluffy lives very seriously and get rid of the plastic.

But how can we go on? How do we really live in an affordable manner without plastic? I mentioned in my Ferret Nation post that when it comes to cost-effective production, the small animal industry too often turns to plastic. Outside of cage fabricators, there are also major manufacturers pushing cheap dust houses, running wheels, litter boxes, hideaways, water bottles – plastic, plastic, plastic. As small of a media sector as there is for the small animal community, we need to stop listening to the part of it that is telling us to put perceived low cost and ease of purchase over the health and well-being of our animals.

Koko Sleepy Ledge

The answer is, we need to shop differently and stop the flow of plastic consumption. Stop by Home Depot or a lumber supply, grab some cheap kiln-dried wood, screws and washers, and learn to make some simple things for your chins. And yes, it is actually cheap – as cheap or cheaper than plastic, and far more healthy both in the interim and long-term. Another DIY option is to cover plastic items tightly in fleece, a safe way to modify existing plastic items. A great way to think about improving your chinchilla’s environment is to look at the process as a positive bonding experience – a way for you to give your energy to your fluffy child in a way that they can truly appreciate. As chin owners, we really don’t get to experience a silent cuddle without any signs of struggle, so watching your chinchilla enjoy their well-made home is truly an expression of appreciation for all the work that you’ve done. And yes, we know that you have done a lot of work, and the work ceases to end, especially if you’re doing a great job.

Ladies Cage Wood Ledge

Or, a less energy-consuming alternative: find a vendor that makes safe chinchilla ledges, platforms, houses, and accessories. There are plenty of great home-spun chinchilla vendors that put a lot of work and energy into making some beautiful accents for your chinchillas so you don’t have to! I will note, however, that when energy goes down for the end user, cost will tend to rise: the cost of purchasing from these vendors is almost always at least double the cost of producing these goods yourself (although a lot of people don’t want to make the initial investment of purchasing a drill, saw, and other construction materials needed to start on projects that require energy and attention, which I also understand). But honestly, if you aren’t going to break out the tools and do it yourself, by all means – buy from these vendors. It’s a higher cost than plastic, sure – but it is invaluable for your chinchilla to have that safe, healthy environment that he or she needs. The investment is not short-term, and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Muff Home

Since the chinchilla pet owning market has not really spoken out against plastic in mainstream commercial avenues (i.e. endorsed by major chinchilla-selling pet stores) most creators of chin-safe goods will be sold at a premium. The more we evolve and begin to understand the chinchilla on a national scale – their complexities, individuality, health requirements, and all the basics – will we begin the full evolution of a safer, inexpensive, more comprehensive chinchilla market that gives our fur-babies exactly what they need, at a cost that won’t break the bank.

We already do so much for our chins, the least the industry could do is recognize and proliferate the true requirements that chinchillas need so as to promote ownership that is not ignorant for a lack of preliminary information. Ignorance will continue in each and every pet kingdom, that’s just the unfortunate truth. However, we should do our best to dissuade unfit owners through education and knowledge. I know the knowledge is out there, and amazing owners and breeders contribute to the chinchilla society, but too often the contributions are laced with a high-strung attitude about best practices. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a person without opinion, and I definitely feel that there are a great many ways how to raise a chinchilla and a great many ways how not to. But I think there needs to be an open dialogue with the community – chinchilla owning and not – about chinchilla ownership and coming to an understanding of general chinchilla needs, and having that conversation turn into a pedestal for future expansion of the industry. The lack of a centralized commercial understanding of chinchilla care – or the willingness to promote bad care in exchange for profit – is unacceptable.

Hay Feeder 1

For my chinchillas, I make everything out of kiln-dried pine, from litter boxes to hay feeders to ledges, platforms, and toys (toys are often made from a variety of vendor-purchased pear or apple woods). I use stainless steel bowls, glass water bottles, and metal pans with fleece covering as a replacement for the stock plastic components in my cages. But then again, I’m just one loving chinchilla owner, and I can only do so much for the community at large. Chinchilla education starts with you, learning and sharing and learning again. There’s an endless ocean of information out there, and it’s spectacular. I spend a lot of my free time reading and learning and searching for more, for the simple reason that I care about chinchillas and would like to know more. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, but always try to fix your mistakes and practice great caution before making any decisions or setting your mind to some half-fact that could negatively impact your chinchilla. Knowledge is always power: the type of power that leads to a happy chinchilla home. Also, don’t get discouraged if you can’t do everything at once: making improvements is a process that expends time, money, and energy. You learn about what works best for your chinchilla, making positive changes whenever you can.. and every step counts.

Providing a happy home is, above all else, providing a healthy home. The happiest home is an environment that allows your chinchilla to explore their personality, growth, and development in a space that fosters and caters to their safety and health. I urge all owners to get rid of plastics inside your chinchilla’s cage and replace them with delicious, crunchy, dental-health-promoting chinchilla safe woods! 🙂

Muff Sleeping Litter Bxo

Muffton sleeping like a baby in his safe wood litter box! He might not use it as he should, but enjoys it all the same!

 

Get To Know: Koko Bear

KOKO BEAR [my sweetfaced sweetheart] AKA Koko, Ko, Ko-Bear, Fatty-Ko, RoKoko

Extra Dark Ebony, Born 06/28/2014, approximately 700 grams

Koko Box

Role in Playtime Kingdom? Lovely damsel in distress – desperately in need of a good scratching! She absolutely melts for scratches in any situation, and oftentimes needs mom to swoop in for a cuddle and scratch!

Favorite Hiding Place? Koko doesn’t have very adventurous playtimes, and couches are her haven. She’ll simply waddle her cute butt around under the periphery of the couches (most of the space beneath the couches have been blocked for playtime safety purposes) and pick a spot to prance around back and forth.

Physical Capability? Koko is cautious! She likes to take her time, and stick to the well-known spots. She also isn’t capable of jumping very high or wall-surfing (yet). As slow as Koko is in most environments, she’s also capable of being speedy in her home! She’ll dart around her cage with exact precision. Every time she receives a shredded wheatie in her cage, she’ll run all around her cage with the treat in her mouth for a good 3-4 minutes before choosing a corner to settle down in and get her munch on!

Koko Tutu

Vocal? Hardly! Koko is super quiet, except for little squeaks when you traverse onto her belly during scratch-time.

Human Cuddle Status? Yes, she will! Shocking, right? But Koko is a surprising little jellybean and a total joy to have. She’s the most recent chinchilla to join the family, and it has been a whole new experience! She’s unlike any of my other babies.

Koko and Ellen

Favorite Way to Be Picked Up? This delicate fluffball enjoys being picked up by the torso and tail – she always starts head-shaking when she’s picked up, and it immediately ceases after she’s adjusted (thank goodness her shaking was proven to be an expression of nervousness, not a neurological problem)!

Intelligence? Low. But who needs it when you’re the sweetest chinchilla in all the land! Koko is the slowest to come to the cage door for treats, and when anyone talks sweetly to her, she looks all around in honest confusion! I’m glad she has the eating and drinking thing down, though 😛

Ko ball

Is She Compatible with Other Chinchillas? I personally believe she would be, if I had a sweet cage mate for her. But in the current state of events, no one likes Koko’s scent! It’s so unfortunate: the mosaic sisters have each other, and they look at her as a threat.. the boys don’t register that she’s female, even though they’ve all gone through a lengthy introduction process with her! Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you’d hope. But it doesn’t detract from the happiness they experience and the joy they bring a dedicated owner separately!

Koko Box Pink

Ready for a Photo Shoot? She’s the reigning queen of photo shoots! I have an endless arsenal of super-cute Koko photos, because she’s so darling and docile and happy to be there. No treats needed – this model is a pro!

Koko Posing

Love to Dust? She dusts in sporadic energetic bursts, but I don’t think she enjoys it or dislikes it either way. Just another part of life for this little sootball.

Three Words/Phrases to Sum Up Her Personality? Docile Darling, A Pure Joy, Luckiest Find in All the Land

Get To Know: Lulu

LULU [my graceful chubster] AKA Lululumon, FattyLoo, Lu, Fatty

Mosaic, Born 08/21/2013, approximately 800 grams

Lu Loaf

Role in Playtime Kingdom? Graceful little queen bee! Lulu prances around like a beautiful butterfly, making jumps gingerly and landing them with a cute twirl and smile. Such a debutant!

Favorite Hiding Place? Under the filing cabinet, just like Muff! But since it’s been long blocked off, little lady Lu enjoys spending time out in the open, roaming about like a curious princess.

Lulu Standing

Physical Capability? Oblivious grace! Lulu has the luck of a true happy-go-lucky darling. She’s also an occasional high jumper!

Vocal? Not really! Lulu is very quiet, like a fat stealth machine. She’ll only squeak on very rare occasions, like when her sis Fifi overdoes the midnight cage sprints.

Human Cuddle Status? Lu gets all her cuddles in with her sister, so she doesn’t need any human snuggles. Power to the semi-independent woman! She will accept light petting, but not a fan of scratches or massages.

Favorite Way to Be Picked Up? This lady is a queen, and expects full support from the torso, legs, and base of the tail. She will not lift a paw to help you in the process, although when she’s in the carriage, she’s a happy traveler.

Lulu Holding

Intelligence? Two words: Space. Case. Lulu is extra sweet and adorable, with her eyes a bit closer on her head than the other babies and her unique spots on her back, she’s a real catch! The boys love her, and so does everyone who meets her. But this little girl’s in her own universe! I don’t blame her at all; sometimes, ignorance is bliss. 🙂

Is She Compatible with Other Chinchillas? For the most part, yes! Lulu gets flirts left and right from both Muff and Mitty! They have the biggest crushes on her and offer her endless kisses and grooming sessions (supervised, of course). Fifi, her sister, loves to cuddle with her and spend quality cage time together. Her one nemesis, it seems, is young Koko Bear! She can’t stand the way Koko smells, and becomes quite aggressive when she comes into any contact with the new girl’s scent.

Lulu getting kisses

Ready for a Photo Shoot? Due to her ditz, Lu is perfect on set! It typically takes her a while to realize where she is, and if there’s a little treat in the picture, she won’t even care when she figures it out. I mean, she’s no docile Koko Bear, but she’s definitely second in line when it comes to being workable on set!

Lulu 1K

Love to Dust? Just like Muff, Lulu can’t get enough of the dusting -she’d live in dust if she could, I’m sure of it.

Three Words/Phrases to Sum Up Her Personality? Lost in Her Own World, Fluffball Full of Grace, Princess Status/Queen-in-Training

Next Week.. Lu’s sister, Fifi!

How To: Bond With Your Chinchilla

Here we are traipsing the threshold of 2015, and it’s golden skies and sunny days as far as the eye can see (optimism, optimism!). Instead of writing a post on this year’s reflection (which, if you do want to read, I’ve already written), I’m going to instead share something that could be useful to you and your sweet furry pets in the new year – especially for all you new chinchilla owners. Today’s post will be all about best bonding practices!

There are a few major pointers I’d like to make to cast an umbrella over the whole of this post, which I think are good fundamental rules to follow in the entirety of your relationship with your pet:

  1. Set realistic expectations. Try very, very hard not to idealize your relationship with your chinchilla. A lot of chinchilla owners become disheartened when they learn their adorable new pet doesn’t seem to reciprocate their feelings. Be ready to be disliked or apathetically treated for months! The need for instant gratification is something we have become accustomed to in our society, but it shouldn’t be automatically transferred to human or animal relationships. The crux of good relationships take time, energy, and more time.
  2. Chinchillas are people, too. What I mean by this is, chins have exuberant and specific personalities and great memories. They resemble people in their ability to feel emotion, have thoughts, and hold opinions, although they are not able to express it in ways that appear clairvoyant to humans. Chins are all different, with different mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, and intelligence levels. So to say, not all chins should be treated the same way and it’s necessary to try your best to come to an understanding about who your chinchilla is.
  3. Above all, take your time and stay positive. Anyone who has successfully bonded with their chinchillas will be able to tell you that it’s one of the most rewarding processes and relationships they’ve been able to build. You won’t get there if you give up! It’s brick-by-brick; Rome wasn’t built in a day; take it slow and keep a steady pace with your bonding techniques, and you’ll get there eventually!

Mom Ellen and Koko

Step 1: Introductions! When you first meet your darling chinchilla(s), there will be a great deal of confusion on their end. They’ve likely been through the ringer on the first day in their new home, what with transport, new smells, sounds, and vibrations. Hopefully, their last owner provided you with some of their pellets so you can make an eventual transition to their new feed over the course of several weeks. If not, they’ll have the added stress of a new diet to deal with. It’s important to be understanding during the first few weeks. They will be understandably skittish and scared – but don’t worry, chinchillas are extremely adaptable, resilient, and curious, and will come to know their cage and environment within a day or two. Some owners have found that having a television on by the cage has helped alleviate stress during a move and acted as a distraction for their chinchillas during times of change. In this initial introductory period, you should spend time around your chinchilla, but should not force them to leave their cage or be unwillingly held if not needed. It’s always helpful to speak quietly to your chinchilla in a calming voice, allowing them to become familiarized to your baseline temperament. Once your chinchilla begins to feel safe and the introductory period is nearing an end, you’ll notice your chinchilla approaching you with curiosity and willingness. In some cases, this can happen almost immediately with a very social and friendly chin – in most cases, the process takes much longer, up to several months. In the meantime, it’s time for Step 2.

Mitty Under Couch

Step 2: Develop a Routine! Adopt a healthy diet, dusting routine, and cleaning schedule for your chinchillas. Feeding your chins should be a daily exercise. Free feeding pellets is the way to go; hays and pellets should be re-upped every day to ensure maximal freshness. When you’re in the cage, be sure to say hi to your chinchilla and remind them what a great job you’re doing as a parent. As far as dusting goes, since my chinchillas don’t have dry skin issues and all love to dust, I have a dust compartment separate from their cages that I allow them access to every day. Since it’s a controlled dusting environment and not a free-for-all, I use their dusting time as an opportunity to pick them up, hold them briefly, and weigh them daily. I’ve found that this daily routine has helped me bond with my chin-kids, learning how they like to be picked up, how long they can tolerate a cuddle, and reassuring them that I’m still here for them. Additionally, it’s helpful to objectively weigh their growth – based on water and food consumption and time of day, chinchillas can gain or lose up to 20 grams per day, but as long as the overall trajectory is weight gain and not loss, there isn’t much to worry about. All chin owners know that cleaning is needed almost daily. Deep cleaning occurs perhaps once or twice a week, but some minor tidying is a daily task. During this time, I like to sing to my chins, even though human bystanders insist they’re begging me to stop (I know the truth: that they LOVE it).  The importance of routine cannot be overlooked – it’s the daily interactions that amount to aggregate care. Nobody said caring for a chinchilla was easy, and if they did, they were wrong! It does gets easier though, once you adopt a manageable schedule and supportive network.

Koko Wheatie

Step 3: Playtime! Given your chinchilla is over 6 months old, you can let them out for playtime once or twice a week. Eventually, as long as you have the time and energy to supervise a safe playtime session and know your chinchilla well enough, even daily playtime is fine. I’d suggest starting out in a bathroom or closet for 10 minutes at a time, sitting with them and allowing them to learn and explore the space before moving on to a larger area. To read more about playtime tips, read this post. Not every chinchilla is fond of playtime, some prefer their cage. However, playtime is always a great way to boost trust and confidence in one another, getting to know your little friend through exploration. The more attention and interaction you give your chinchilla, the better their quality of life and the more satisfied they’ll be in their home. Boredom can be a killer for any species, especially for intelligent, active, caged chinchillas. Stimulation is critical for their health and happiness – physical activity can help ebb the issue of containment or inactivity. Hopefully, in addition to a great playtime, your chinchillas have access to a large, spacious, and fun cage where they can explore, chew, and entertain themselves during your off hours. If not, you can look into building your own cage for them! It’s a lot of work, but a lot of reward as well.

Step 4: Lots of Love! There are a plethora of ways to continue on the bonding process. Offering scratches to your chinchillas behind the ears and under the chin can be a great way to bond! For chinnies that don’t want to be scratched, chew toys are always a great peace offering. Teaching your chins that you feed them, bathe them, and treat them helps to develop a great maternal or paternal relationship with your chin-kid. Essentially, any amount of quality time spent with your chinchilla serves to improve human-chinchilla relations, bringing you and your chin closer each day. It’s the little successes that often make us happiest, since these little critters can’t speak or sing or shout about how much they love us. There’s really nothing that can replace the time and energy spent towards great care. We can only do the very best that we can do. Your chinchillas will come to respect you and appreciate you, and simply take you for granted. But, isn’t that just the joy of it all anyhow? You see, that’s the ultimate takeaway from all the hard work that goes into bonding with your chinchilla. You’ve just come to the end of this lengthy article on bonding, but the truth is, if you are a great pet owner, you’ll do everything you can for the animals you love, expecting absolutely nothing in return. Just safety, health, and happiness! That’s our motto – Happy 2015 ya’ll!

Muff 2015 2

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How To: Build a Custom Chinchilla Cage

This week’s post will be all about how to build your own custom chinchilla cage! Since last week’s post, I’ve had many inquiries asking how I built my own cage and the step-by-step process involved. So let’s get to it!

There are a few things to remember prior to making this decision:

  1. Building your own cage is NOT less expensive than buying a quality pre-made cage. In fact, it often runs more expensive in terms of items needed and time spent designing and creating the cage. Our cage cost roughly $600 to construct, and that’s an ongoing number as we continue to modify and improve it.
  2. Knowing your chinchillas well or caring to know about them well is critical to building a successful cage (although there will be many things you’ll learn about them as they discover new spaces). The whole purpose of custom building is to allow your chins exactly what they want and prefer out of a home, so it’s best to keep that in mind when making it the first time around.
  3. This process is extremely time and energy consuming, so it’s best to team up with someone that has some patience and strength! We built our cage in a single day, but we also were incredibly motivated at the time.

Step 1: Gather tools!

For the foundation:

  • Wardrobe unit or sheets of kiln-dried pine, fitting for your space and preference
    • Minimum unit size per chin should ideally be a 3 foot cube; when constructing your own cage it’s beneficial to offer them as much space as possible. Our single units are approximately 4 feet x 3 feet x 2 feet. We would love to give them each a much larger home, but we do live in NYC and have four full units for five chinchillas.
  • Jigsaw, chop saw, or skill saw
  • Hole saw, 4” diameter or larger
  • Drill with self-tapping screws, from ½” to 2” long
  • Drill bits of various sizes, from 1/8” to ½”

For the screen:

  • Mesh wire, ¼” or ½”
  • Wire cutters
  • Carpet trim, metal or wood

For the inside:

  • Kiln-dried pine for constructing ledges and platforms
  • Tubes
  • Hammocks
  • Food Bowls and Hay Racks
  • Dust houses
  • Chinchilla-specific huts, toys, and wheels
  • Granite or marble slabs

For the lighting (if you should choose to include):

  • Light fixture
  • Extension cords
  • Staple gun with ½” long staples

Accessories:

  • Lock
  • Bungee Cords
  • Thermometer
  • Water bottles

Step 2: Construct & Deconstruct the Foundation

This would be a lovely time to create a design for your chinchillas. Depending on how many single units you want to fit in your chinchilla complex, you’re going to have to make some decisions. Who goes where, what they love, who wants to jump, who likes to be lazy, etc. If all your chinchillas are amicable, I’d suggest creating something that could potentially be sectioned off into different levels later on, should any disharmony come into the group.

It’s important to note that most wardrobes purchased at most stores are wood veneer covered chipboard. It’s not ideal – the most ideal wood to use would be kiln-dried untreated pine. However, in my experience, my chinchillas will chew platforms and ledges prior to their cage frames.

So, take a look at the wardrobe you’ve selected. It’s time to mentally construct and deconstruct this guy! You’ll need to keep the frame but remove as much of the walls as possible in order to ensure maximal wire mesh coverage. This is so that your chins have a breezy complex that allows the passage of air through their living space at all times. It’s important for chins to have fresh food, water, and circulating airflow. I try to keep it all very zen and health-conscious in that way. In order to accomplish this, there will need be a sturdy frame and pillar or sections to keep the cage sturdy.

You’ll need to decide the overall structure of the frame prior to assembling or disassembling. It’s best to start out with drawings or sketches, and change as needed if you hit certain roadblocks. Once you’ve made up your mind, you can cut out the front walls, construct the cage and begin to remove certain elements.

The first physical step will be to cut out the front of the cage. The front walls are typically doors, so you’ll need to use a saw and remove the meat of the doors, leaving a frame which will be fitted with wire mesh. The best way to secure mesh is to start tightly from one corner and work your way out, securing with screws as you go in both directions.

Then, you’ll need to construct the frame of the cage, leaving out the back panel. Typically, it will be the back walls that will go completely and the shelving that will stay in some way. You can remove the entire back before it has even been affixed and fit it with mesh instead.

The side walls and ceiling, after the frame is constructed, can contain many unique window cutouts that can be fitted with wire mesh or plexi from the outside. All wire mesh should be affixed from the outside, so that your chinchillas will not have access to biting the sharp edges (which can’t help but stay sharp unless you weld it in some way). Same with plexi, as eating plastic is never chin-healthy. Luckily, some of my chins have an aversion to eating plastics, so based on my personal experience with them, I allow some to have plexi platforms.

As your cage comes together, you’ll notice that the wire mesh is quite unsightly. To solve this, you can purchase lengths of carpet trim in either metal or wood, whatever fits with your theme best. This will serve to cover the edges of the wire mesh, also helping to secure them neatly.

So, at this point, your cage should be fully structurally sound and fully formed. It’s all about moving on to the inside of the cage and personalizing for your little babies.

Step 3: Interior Design

Platforms first! Getting the larger basics down will help section off your space and make for safe, fun levels. I suggest keeping platforms 6-8” apart height-wise just for safety. Any higher, and a fall could potentially hurt your chin. Also, platforms should be around 4-5” wide. Platforms can be secured from one side to the other, or just act as a large ledge protruding from the left, back, or right of the cage.

Don’t forget ledges! Fun rounded shapes for corners, sides, and all around. Sizes can vary, from 3″ upward. We started with cutting a plethora of ledges or preparing appropriate chin-safe wood branches and then went around, screwing them in with hardware from the outside.

Personally, I never worry about ledges or platforms getting dirty or worn down. Kiln-dried pine is relatively inexpensive and easy to replace when you have a custom-built cage, so the chins are encouraged to destroy and munch as much as their little hearts desire.

Great things to incorporate into your cage are bedding pans! I’d suggest powder-coated metal with a drawer mechanism, although for now we are using Vitakraft ECO bedding and creating little litter corners for the kids. It works for us for now; we have had a tough time finding custom pans for the kids, so we’ll wait until we’re ready to create custom metal pans.

For our cage, we went with aluminum tubes – my chins don’t even show the slightest interest in chewing metals (although if yours do, this is not a safe option). They’re very sturdy and a year in, they look as new as the day we got them. There are many different sizes and shapes for chins who love to cuddle or just relax on their own. I know many people use fleece-covered PVC or cardboard tubes; that’s a great addition too.

Fun additions are little chin-holes for traveling between units! This works great for chins who want a little space from a friend, or some time to reflect on which unit is their favorite. We did this for our kids early on; when they became inharmonious together, we simply closed off the adjoining holes and brought back some peace to the family.

As far as food provisions go, we use PVC tube coverings (they look like little bowls) with a screw through the bottom, which then connects to a drilled hole at the bottom of their cage. The bowls are easy to remove and stand-alone, which is pretty cool. Everyone except Muff gets this PVC, because they know not to chew plastic. Muff, on the other paw, has a glass bowl for his food. We still use physical glass bowls for hay, because our chins don’t have any respect for hay racks.

We also screwed down a few slivers of pine to affix granite slabs in their place, so they can freely be placed on a platform without a worry of being shifted. We have never had a problem with our chins and screws, because we use a countersink method (which means the screw falls flush or deeper than the wood).

Hammocks, huts, wheels, and toys are final additions for the kids. Some use these items more than others; it’s a great chance to personalize each area for each chinchilla. I personally don’t let them have individual dust houses, but that’s only because their cage is in our living space (so it would be wildly messy – even more-so than the crazy cleaning schedule we have now) and I also enjoy handling and bonding with them each and every day when they receive their dust baths. It’s a nice daily ritual we have, and it works for us.

Step 4: Lighting and Accessories

We’ve tried a few different lighting techniques for the cage. It’s easy to lose the kids in a dark background (especially if your chin’s fur is dark as well), so lighting is a great option if done safely. We always use low power LED lights that don’t generate any actual level of noticeable heat, fixed to areas that the chins can’t reach – such as the cage ceiling or on the outside, near but not on a window. The lights we have now have a switch for easy on/off. We use extension cords to power the lights and used a staple gun to adhere the wires flush to the outside of the cage, creating a clean look. We always unplug the light if we aren’t using it, or are out of town for a day or two.

Finally, we have bungee cords at the top and bottom and a lock in the middle! The bungees are to keep the cage doors flush and quiet when they wall jump; the lock is to keep the entire cage secure. Also, there are two glass water bottles adhered to the outside of the back of each cage unit, just in case one water bottle goes wonky. We also placed a thermometer on the cage so we know exactly what the temperature of their environment is, and can adjust accordingly. We never let the room get higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step Five: Kick Back and Enjoy!

So, there you have it! The long, arduous, and very rewarding process of building your own custom chinchilla cage! It’s incredibly easy to make changes to your cage once it’s up and running, and your chinchillas will never look back at their old cages. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly time, energy, and money consuming, but it’s a really great experience to feel as if you’ve given a part of your creativity and design to your babies. Admittedly, there are many different avenues to feel this way; this is only one!

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We leave you with a sweet video and wish you a wonderful holiday week!